Highlands tops podium after 55+ Winter Games
|By Mark Arike - Staff Writer | February 26, 2015
After receiving initial input from several athletes and volunteers, the organizers of the 2015 Ontario 55+ Winter Games are thrilled with the success of this year's event.
In a meeting with the media on Feb. 23 at Pinestone Resort, Games chair Alan Clark highlighted the positive feedback he received following the sporting event, which ran from Feb. 17-19 at venues across Haliburton County.
"A lot of people just wrote 'I'll be back,' 'had a great time,' 'a wonderful experience,'" said Clark, referring to the several emails that came in. "Then we had a lot of comments about sport."
Over 1,000 athletes age 55 and older participated in 10 different sports including alpine skiing, badminton, curling, duplicate bridge, hockey, Nordic skiing, prediction skating, table tennis, ten pin bowling and volleyball. The only sporting event held outside of Haliburton County was bowling, which took place in Huntsville.
Clark pointed to the economic benefit of the games, explaining that 500 athletes stayed for a third night in the county at their own expense. That was "way up from 2011," he said, when about 300 stayed for an extra night.
"The accommodation providers here were fabulous. They gave the same discounted rate for the third night," he said, adding that one group of 10 athletes stayed for an entire week.
"That was a nice financial benefit."
Four years ago, athletes were fed dinner at Haliburton Highlands Secondary School. However, this year they were shuttled to local restaurants in Haliburton and Minden on a "Taste of the Highlands" tour.
Service groups such as the local Legion and churches also benefitted, said Clark.
"That seemed to get a real nice reaction from everybody because now these people were seen in downtown Minden and downtown Haliburton."
Clark said a total of 240 athletes completed a survey to rate their overall experience. The results showed that 54 per cent felt that the dining tour was outstanding. But the biggest hit came in the form of the volunteers – 91 per cent of respondents rated them as outstanding.
A tradeshow featuring local attractions, such the Haliburton County Studio Tour and the Highlands Opera Studio, also went over well with visitors.
"The positive thing was that so many people said we really want to come back," said Clark.
Although the Games brought visitors to town, it is unknown exactly what that translates to in terms of total economic impact. Clark said that in 2011, the Ontario government completed a report that found there was $1.4 million in "economic activity."
"I read the report 10 times and didn't know what that means," he said. "All I know is that we have a cash budget in the area of half a million dollars, and I would estimate that at least $400,000 went [into the community]."
Clark added that the Ontario Senior Games Association would be petitioning their members to find out what their reaction to the Games was. On the local front, he requested feedback from the county's tourism committee and the tourism stakeholders committee.
At the end of the previous Winter Games, Clark recommended stretching the sporting events over three days instead of two (the first day was for registration, dinner and the opening ceremony).
"Trying to fit everything into two days is a struggle. In my last report in 2011, I strongly recommended it be spread over three days. Not only to spread the economic benefit, but just to make it a more workable solution."
However, the OSGA committee decided not to do so because they didn't believe that participants would be willing to spend more money or take extra time out of their schedules, said Clark.
In an email to the paper, tourism director Amanda Virtanen said the event gave visitors a taste of what the Haliburton Highlands has to offer.
"The Ontario 55+ Winter Games were an amazing way to showcase our unique region to nearly 1,000 athletes," said Virtanen.
"Nearly every 'bed' in the county was filled, as the participants were in accommodations spread widely throughout the region. Many of the athletes were comparing their experiences and spoke of coming back again to try some other locations."
Clark stressed the importance of the event's many volunteers, saying that it just wouldn't be possible without their help.
"There was so much goodwill created by the volunteers and we had lots of volunteers at every venue," he said.
"The volunteer effort was unbelievable."
Clark said the 400 or so volunteers will receive a certificate in the near future for their contributions to the Games.
MARK ARIKE is a reporter for The Highlander.